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Alliance Forming To Push For Kansas Medicaid Expansion

Mercy Hospital Independence
Supporters of Medicaid expansion say it would bolster the finances of many rural hospitals, such as Mercy Hospital in Indendence, Kansas, which closed last year.

A new organization is forming to strengthen the lobbying effort for Medicaid expansion in Kansas.

The Alliance for a Healthy Kansas will focus on passing an expansion bill in 2017, not in the waning days of the current session, according to Billie Hall, the chief executive of the Topeka-based Sunflower Foundation.

In an email sent Wednesday to approximately 2,000 people registered to receive updates from the foundation, Hall urged individuals and organizations from across the state to join the alliance so that it can mount a strong lobbying effort next year.

“This conversation must continue through the summer and fall so that we can make a difference in 2017,” she wrote.

The alliance’s website is designed to “bring the voices of Kansans into this important policy discussion,” Hall wrote.

In addition to Sunflower, several foundations are funding the alliance, including the Wichita-based Kansas Health Foundation.

The website features a list of 70 current alliance members, which include a wide range of large and small advocacy groups, health care providers, unions and foundations.

To date, the Kansas Hospital Association has been the most visible advocate of expanding KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program. It has funded research detailing how expansion could benefit health care providers and the Kansas economy. It also has commissioned multiple surveys, each of which has shown that a majority of  Kansans support expansion.

However, those efforts have failed to substantially move the needle on the issue. Gov. Sam Brownback and Republican legislative leaders remain steadfastly opposed to expanding KanCare coverage to an estimated 150,000 Kansans, most of whom are low-income but non-disabled adults.

Brownback reiterated his opposition to expansion in his session-opening State of the State speech.

“It was Obamacare that cut Medicare reimbursements to rural hospitals,” Brownback said, referring to reductions in Medicare payments included in the Affordable Care Act. “It was Obamacare that caused the problem. We should not expand Obamacare to solve the problem.”

Brownback’s remarks were designed to counter claims that expanding KanCare would bolster the finances of many struggling Kansas hospitals and could have prevented the closure last fall of Mercy Hospital in Independence.  

Kansas is one of 19 states that so far have rejected Medicaid expansion.

Missing out on the first three years of expansion has cost the state more than $1 billion in additional federal money, according to the hospital association, which keeps a running total on its website.

Editor’s note: The Kansas Health Foundation is the main funder of the Kansas Health Institute, parent of the editorially independent KHI News Service, one of the partners in Heartland Health Monitor.

Jim McLean is executive editor of KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.

Jim McLean is a political correspondent for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration based at KCUR with other public media stations across Kansas. You can email him at jim@kcur.org.
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